UFT President Michael Mulgrew exhorted women in the union to run for elected office at the morning town hall at the Spring Education Conference.
“We’re going to have a huge turnover in our government next year,” he said, referring to the 35 City Council seats that will be open because of term limits. “It’s important that we elect more women to government.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is running for president, made a surprise appearance and underscored Mulgrew’s remarks about the need for more women — and more educators — in politics.
“We have such an opportunity to make sure we’re heard in the national debate,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “I urge you to use your voices now. Get involved in campaigns locally and nationally. There’s no more important time.”
She also made her own pitch for the presidency, vowing to fully fund public education and eliciting a roar from the audience when she asked, “How much do you want to get rid of Betsy DeVos?”
The “Stand Up and Run” town hall panel, moderated by Mulgrew, featured three members of the state Assembly: Alicia Hyndman, Jaime Williams and Carmen De La Rosa. Each woman in turn discussed the journey she made to elected office and recalled the teachers and other mentors who offered encouragement and saw something in her that she did not yet see in herself. Raising money for a race can be a daunting task, they said, but it can be done.
“When you see every day that you can make a change, that makes it worth the struggle,” said Hyndman, who represents the 29th Assembly District in Queens. “You have to feel in here that you can do it,” she said, pointing to her heart. “If we did it, you can, too.”
“Who better than teachers to understand education funding?” said De La Rosa, who represents the 72nd Assembly District in upper Manhattan.
Williams, who represents the 59th Assembly District in Brooklyn, echoed that sentiment. “You know the needs of children and the schools,” she told the crowd. “You are the experts when it comes to education.”
When Mulgrew asked them to comment on politics as “a blood sport,” Williams acknowledged that it can be tough. “People will use anything and everything against you,” she said. “You have to hold on to your values and principles.”
Hyndman advised potential candidates to be authentic.
“Be true to yourself,” she said. “Don’t let anyone define you.”